Beginning of the Church / Assembly
Some mistakenly believe that the “church” began in the Old Testament. This is usually based upon a misunderstanding of the use of the term ekklhsia in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. We have already shown that ekklhsia is not a technical term for what we would now call the New Testament Church. Ekklhsia can be used in a non-technical sense to denote any particular gathering of people. In the Old Testament it is used to identify Israel. This is not evidence that the New Testament Church is synonymous with Israel.13
The church is a separate entity and remains distinct from the nation of Israel. Although there are believing Jews who are members of the body of Christ, Gentile believers do not become part of Israel because of their faith in Christ. The word Israel always means the physical descendants of Jacob. The term Israel is used 66 times in the New Testament and it always refers to Jews. The term new Israel as an identification for the church is not accurate; Israel always means people of physical Jewish descent.
Some believe that all the redeemed, of every dispensation, are part of the church. Simply because they are redeemed, and their common destiny is heaven, does not mean that all of the redeemed of every age are part of the universal church, the body of Christ. In the same way that believers before Abraham (ie. Enoch and Noah) were not part of Israel; so in this age (Post-Israel), the church is not Israel. Rather, they are members of the Body of Christ. There is a remnant of Jewish believers who in this dispensation have placed their faith in Christ (Rom. 11:5). They remain descendants of Israel even after they are placed into the Body of Christ. In this dispensation, all believing Jews and Gentiles form one new man and are united in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-15; 3:5).
If the church is not a continuation of Israel, then it must have began at a different time. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus declared, “I will build my church.” This indicates that the establishment of the church was yet still future. The beginning of the church had to have taken place some time after the pronouncement made in Matthew 16:18.
Two related events point to the beginning of the church; the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism of Believers into the Body of Christ. In Acts 1:5 Jesus stated, “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” This indicates that the Holy Spirit had not yet been sent and the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit was still to come. After the ascension of Christ the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost as the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-5).
First Corinthians 12:12-14 reads:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.
Ephesians 1:22-23 reads:
And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
These verses make it clear that all the members form the church, and this church is the body of Christ. It is the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that places both Jews and Greeks into this body. Before the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit took place there could be no church.
In Acts 11, Peter reported on what had happened at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles just as it had on the Jews on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 11:15-16 reads:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
The phrase “just as He did upon us at the beginning” is key. The beginning of what? The beginning of the church! This phrase identifies the beginning as the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit and thus identifies the beginning as the formation of the New Testament church. The church began at Pentecost (Acts 2).14
13 Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 367.
14 Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 349.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.